Depression (1): The Most Difficult of Ailments- Shades of Grace | Natalie Nichols

Depression (1): The Most Difficult of Ailments

Depression: The Most Difficult of Ailments

One in ten U.S. adults report they are depressed. If we were honest, we’d all admit to feeling depressed at one time or another. We might walk through seasons of discouragement that momentarily descend to depression for a day or two…or we might struggle with major (clinical) depression, a medical condition.

I’ve experienced both forms of depression and have found life-changing grace and strength and hope in Christ. (See Jack #4 and Refresher Course.)

How Common is Depression

More than 16 percent of Americans—as many as 35 million people—suffer from depression severe enough to warrant treatment at some time in their lives. In any given one-year period, 13 million to 14 million people, about 6.6 percent of the nation, experience the illness. (National Comorbidity Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health).

Christianity Today reported:

The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years. In the United States, 5 to 10 percent of adults currently experience the symptoms of major depression…and up to 25 percent meet the diagnostic criteria during their lifetime, making it one of the most common conditions treated by primary care physicians. At any given time, around 15 percent of American adults are taking antidepressant medications.

Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups or between those who attend religious services and those who do not. So in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants.

Recently, we learned of the tragic suicide of Matthew Warren. Matthew was the son of Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life. My heart aches for the Warren family. I’m praying for them daily. I hope you will too.

In an email to his church staff, Pastor Warren stated:

“Those closest knew that [Matthew] struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”

What Is Depression

Feelings of being downcast or sad can occur from exhaustion; from being in a job that is meaningless or unfulfilling; from personal tragedy or mourning; from stress; from a sinful lifestyle; or from lack of communication with God through spending time in prayer and the Bible.

However, occasionally feeling sad and battling chronic depression are two different things. Depression isn’t normal human sadness that can be relieved by time passing or by a situational change. It is biophysical in nature and often requires professional treatment to improve.

We all go through ups and downs in our mood. Sadness is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, setbacks, and disappointments. Many people use the word “depression” to explain these kinds of feelings, but depression is much more than just sadness. It is a serious medical illness.

Depression has a variety of symptoms, but the most common is a deep feeling of sadness that engulfs your day-to-day life, affecting your ability to function. This is often accompanied by many other symptoms. (For symptoms, see APA, NIMH, NAMI, DBSA, and Helpguide.)

The American Psychiatric Association says:

The death of a loved one, loss of a job, or the ending of a relationship are difficult experiences for a person to endure. It is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such stressful situations. Those experiencing trying times often might describe themselves as being “depressed.” But sadness and depression are not the same. While feelings of sadness will lessen with time, the disorder of depression can continue for months, even years. Patients who have experienced depression note marked differences between normal sadness and the disabling weight of clinical depression.

For the remainder of this post, when referring to “depression,” I am referring to the illness of clinical depression.

My Friend Kathryn

I have a dear friend in heaven named Kathryn. She had bipolar disorder and valiantly battled years of terrible suffering.

Kathryn was a marathon runner. With her thin, petite frame, vibrant smile, bright countenance and colorful style, she was a beautiful, confident young lady, quick witted and sociable. She had a heart of compassion, always willing to give her all for the sake of another.

From the moment I met her, scripture poured from her mouth. The power of the Son of God permeated every syllable. I understood her love of the Word…and the fact that illness made her need it, love it, and live by it all the more deeply.

The darkness of symptoms that can affect the very core of one’s being—the mind—we both understood. We knew the fight that occurs in order to place faith and take refuge in the Word in spite of this darkness. Our illnesses had melted away prior superficial pursuits and earthly attachments, driving us to the source of life, Christ Jesus. From the moment we met, we bonded in Christ.

During a house move, I lived with Kathryn. It changed my walk with Christ, my love of His Word, my confidence in prayer, and my approach to ministry.

For Kathryn, a relationship with Christ and His Word wasn’t a mere habit to practice more frequently or not. It was an indispensable necessity—as vital a part of her existence as breathing.

She surrounded herself internally and externally with scriptures from the Bible—memorizing them by placing them on her walls, her windows—even writing them at times on the windshield of her car. She put scriptures quickened by God in articles of her clothing, socks and shoes, especially when she ran. In fact, she credited her success in running to the faithfulness of God to His Word as she claimed scriptural promises with each step.

I’ve never known anyone so zealous to know God’s Word or so zealous in prayer. When I lived with her, Kathryn and I spent most of our time together praying. Middle of the night prayer, when Kathryn couldn’t sleep. Early morning prayer, when I couldn’t sleep. Afternoon prayer when our paths crossed between activities. Every time we spoke on the phone. Hours and hours of passionate, lively, fervent prayer— never absent Kathryn’s vitality, humor and articulation of scripture as she was herself before her Savior. And just that—there before her Savior…always.

We both experienced great suffering and knew that one day in His courts—no matter what trials ushered us there—was better than a thousand elsewhere.

I learned a lot from Kathryn. My walk with Christ has never been the same after having briefly shared the stride of such a spiritual champion.

Depression: An Illness, Not a Personal Choice

Kathryn was incredibly disciplined as a marathon runner and approached every aspect of life, even her spiritual walk, with the same tenacity required to train and run marathons in record time. Yet, her vast spiritual discipline did not rid her of bipolar disorder.

Kathryn loved God. She had faith enough to move mountains. She didn’t live in habitual sin. (She felt convicted if she even littered a gum wrapper.) She wasn’t lazy and I never knew her to have a pity party.

No, Kathryn was sick. Mental illness wasn’t her fault…no more than a broken leg would have been her fault—something to overcome by sheer will. She had a medical condition. Something in her brain chemistry was broken…just as it had been in mine.

Like Matthew Warren, Kathryn saw some of the best doctors in the nation…yet her condition never subsided. From Rick Warren’s statements, it sounds like Matthew was also a fighter. He apparently wanted to give up years earlier, but continued to fight on for another decade.

Depression: The Most Difficult of Ailments

I’ve suffered many ailments in my body during the 20+ years that I’ve had chronic illness. Even today, in my miraculous recovery phase, if I were to list every symptom I encounter daily, it would likely require several pages. I deal with scores of symptoms and dysfunctions on a daily basis. When I was bedridden, I struggled to breathe, felt intense bodily pain, suffered debilitating weakness and a host of other symptoms—but it all paled in comparison to clinical depression. When it comes to sickness, in my experience, there is nothing harder to endure.

When you’re recuperating from a surgery or afflicted with bodily pain, you can engage in activities with your mind. This is how you occupy yourself, pass the time, and cope. You can read, watch a movie, listen to worship music, put a puzzle together, play games on your tablet device, engage on social media…but when you’re depressed, the very part of your body used for these activities is what is afflicted. You can’t feel pleasure at all, not from anything. Your perceptions are completely altered. Your feelings aren’t normal. There is no escaping depression, not even for a moment.

We all saw the news about the college basketball star Kevin Ware and his broken leg. Reportedly his bone snapped and was protruding several inches from his skin. He courageously encouraged his teammates as he was carried off the field. Adrenaline—and God’s grace, no doubt—were at play. But imagine that his leg had not been repaired that night. Imagine that he was left lying there hours, days, weeks on end with a bone snapped, sticking bare out of his leg. Infection would probably set in. He would be in dire pain, first in his leg, then body wide. Nothing he could do would bring normal feeling back to that leg. All sensation from that limb would be altered…and if left unattended long enough, would likely affect his entire system.

Depression is similar in that no sensations are normal. It’s just that the location of the sensation is not a broken leg, it’s a broken brain—broken emotions, feelings, and perceptions.

I’ll share more about my experience in the next post, but suffice it to say, I know firsthand how difficult it is to endure depression and mental illness. I wanted to die—talked often of suicide. My mother locked my prescriptions in the trunk of the car. Guns were hidden. It was serious…and a constant for many years.

Medical Help is God-Given

No one would have thought of depriving Kevin Ware of medical treatment and surgery to repair his broken leg. We’d never say, “I know God gave doctors wisdom and technology to repair your leg, but don’t use it. That’s a lack of faith. Just pray instead.”

I haven’t needed anti-depressants for depression since Live-cell therapy and Lyme Disease treatment more adequately treated the cause of my depression—neuroborreliosis, or encephalitis from Lyme Disease and its coinfections.

Before God gave me these effective treatments, pharmaceutical anti-depressants brought much needed relief of my depression, especially in the initial years. I cycled through some medications that made it worse until finally reaching one that helped. At other times, there were natural amino acid protocols that helped as much as pharmaceutical treatments. And even now, though my ongoing medical treatments target the infectious source of my depression—it is nonetheless “medical” help.

I am absolutely in favor of utilizing God-given medical treatment for depression and other forms of mental illness. (Some causes of depression lie in repressed memories of painful and traumatic past experiences, such as being sexually abused in childhood. Counseling can be incredibly helpful in such cases. But again, I am principally referring to depression caused by a physical disorder in the brain.)

Depression is caused by an imbalance of several chemicals in the brain, however, many people still see it as a personal or spiritual disorder. A survey by The National Association of Mental Illness found that “almost 20 percent of the public consider [depression] a sign of personal weakness.”

People do not see it as a medical condition, as they would cancer or diabetes. Add to this the fact Christians are supposed to have the joy of the Lord—and maybe that’s why Christians discourage clinical depression sufferers from seeking medical help as they would for any other illness.

In Christians: Take Depression Seriously, Tony Campolo writes:

Those who try to dissuade religious people from getting medical help for clinical depression, claiming that faith alone is the cure, can do devastating harm. In many cases, a severe depression that lasts more than a few days is bio-physically based and requires medical treatment. This is certainly true for any who suffer from a bipolar condition. A psychiatrist is trained to diagnose both medical and mental causes of depression. To seek such treatment does not denote a lack of faith, but rather evidence of a willingness to take advantage of what God has made available to us through modern science.

Tony Ridgaway provides helpful perspective:

Unfortunately, spiritual discipline alone cannot heal a person with a major depressive disorder. Now don’t get me wrong: naturally the value of increased prayer, Bible-study, meditation, etc. in a person’s life cannot be overestimated. And certainly issues of impurity, unacknowledged sin, lack of spiritual discipline, etc. can cause feelings of sadness and separation from God in a healthy person. But in a depressed person, these feelings can also stem from a biological source and therefore may not respond easily to discipline. In short, focused spiritual discipline requires a level of concentration that just isn’t possible when you’re clinically depressed. As such, telling a depressed person to “read more Scripture” or “pray more” is much like trying to turn on a lamp in your house as usual, but the bulb is burned out and will not light no matter how many times you bang on the switch.

In the next two posts, I share spiritual help and encouragement for all forms of depression, be it the normal every day blues or a medical condition such as Major Depression.


  • Do you have a friend or family member who suffers from Major (Clinical) Depression or mental illness?
  • Do you recognize the source of their problems as an illness, not a personal choice?
  • Do you support them in prayer and if necessary, encourage them to seek professional help?


  • Perhaps you suffer from depression or mental illness yourself and have been comforted by the mere open discussion of it. How does it encourage you to know that you’re not alone…and that having clinical depression isn’t your fault?



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